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Photo Credit  Jim Sloan

The park rangers I have spoken to said there are an abundance of rattlesnakes in the parks this year, especially along the shoreline where they lay in wait for small rodents drinking water from along the shoreline.

ALWAYS wiggle your kayak or tap it with your paddle to scare off any rattlesnakes that may have crawled beneath your kayak. Keep your hatches closed at all times to prevent rattlesnakes from crawling into it. USE Extreme caution when launching and exiting your kayak from along the shoreline for rattlesnakes that lay hidden concealed around rocks, stumps, or logs.

It is advisable to wear protective shoes if you decide to take a hike, especially while hiking along the shoreline. Use a walking stick while walking and look at the ground at all times where you step.

Avoid walking through tall brush where snakes are easily hidden from your view. Snakes can climb walls, and trees, and up large boulders. Always look before you pick up anything that has been on the ground, even for only a few minutes. (The marine operator I spoke to at Lake Piru told me he had opened his fishing tackle box to get a hook, and a baby rattler had crawled inside within a few minutes.)

DO NOT leave your shoes outside of your tent, and be sure to keep your tent zipped up at all times. Rattlesnakes are known to crawl under sleeping bags and inside shoes. (Scorpions also do. )

Rattlesnakes can strike one and a half times their body length. Do not handle a dead snake. There is poison in its fangs. Rattlesnakes are excellent swimmers. Look for an “S” pattern on the lake’s water surface, with a small brown object protruding from the surface.

1.) Wash the rattlesnake bite with soap and water.
2.) Keep still and the area where bitten lower than your heart.
3.) Place a constricting bandage between the rattlesnake bite and the heart, as near as possible to the bite. The constriction should be loose enough to permit a finger to be inserted between the constricted extremity and the bandage.
4.) Have someone go get help. Try to remain calm. You need to go to a hospital immediately.
5. ) DO NOT use ice to cool the bite. Use a cool cloth.
6.) DO NOT cut open the wound and try to suck out the venom.
7.) DO NOT use a tourniquet. This will cut off blood flow and the limb may be lost.

Wildlife Biologist Ron Cummings:
The Western Rattlesnake is dangerously venomous, but the lethality of the venom has been exaggerated by Hollywood and urban legend. It is hemotoxic, acting as a powerful digestive juice on body tissue. This can result in serious tissue damage and swelling in the area of the bite, but is rarely fatal to adult humans. Small children, the elderly, and people with allergic reactions are at greater risk. The snake can control the amount of venom injected, and some bites are “dry”, that is, they bite to warn but inject no venom. (Venom is metabolically very “expensive” for the snake to produce, and its venom sacks carry a limited amount. Therefore the snake spends its venom as prudently as possible for procuring food and self-defense.) The venom in the very young snakes is identical to that of the adults, although the quantity is somewhat less. The venom remains toxic even after the snake is dead, and it is possible to become envenomated from handling a dead snake if one is not very careful with the fangs.

Generally rattlesnakes are very shy and retiring. They would rather avoid trouble than confront it. Most river valleys in the southern Sierras, such as Merced, San Joaquin, etc. are prime rattlesnake habitat. Be very cautious in “snake country” when climbing on rocks or walking down dry, rocky creek beds. In the early evening rattlesnakes often come out to warm themselves on heated rocks after the sun goes down. Many are run over in the same way on warm asphalt roadways.

The best treatment of snakebite in the field has been the subject of great debate over the years. Many methods have gained and lost favor. The most current treatment is mainly to keep the patient as calm as possible and to move them to the nearest location from which professional medical help can be acquired. Cutting the wound to suck the venom out often does more tissue damage and introduces infection. Trying to restrict blood flow by tying off the bite site can cause amputation of the limb from tissue death that is worse than what the venom would have done. Cold packs can reduce movement of the venom, as does keeping the bite wound below the level of the heart. The main thing is to keep the patient calm and their heart rate as low as possible. Remember that for a healthy adult, the chances of a bite from the Western Rattlesnake resulting in death are small.


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